Thu, 20 Jun 2019

US Senate Passes Disaster Relief Bill Without Border Aid

Voice of America
24 May 2019, 08:05 GMT+10

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved $19.1 billion in aid to help Americans rebound from a string of natural disasters, but without the extra funds to

address a migrant surge at the border that President Donald Trump had requested.

The Senate, which has a thin Republican majority, approved the measure 85-8. Democrats, who have a majority in the House of Representatives, said a vote could soon follow in that chamber.

Trump supports the legislation, fellow Republican lawmakers said.

The measure is aimed at assisting victims of disasters across the country over the last two years, from hurricanes in the Southeast to Midwestern flooding and California wildfires, with funds to help farmers and repair highways and other infrastructure. It also includes hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, which was devastated by a hurricane in 2017. Trump had vehemently opposed sending more aid to the Caribbean island.

The bill does not include emergency funds to address a migrant surge at the southern U.S. border that Trump had requested earlier this month.

'I had a nice conversation with the president,' Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, who helped negotiate the bill, told reporters outside the Senate. 'The president said OK.'

Shelby said Republicans would push for separate approval of the border aid Trump wanted after lawmakers return from a recess next week, saying, 'It's needed.'

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said he was willing to keep negotiating about border aid. 'We're close but we're not there yet,' he said.

Trump on May 1 requested $4.5 billion for programs that house, feed, transport and oversee the record number of Central American families seeking asylum at the U.S. southern border with Mexico.

A spokesman for House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, said she was pleased the bipartisan legislation 'will meet urgent needs across the country,' adding that House Democrats supported clearing it 'as soon as possible.'

The legislation includes disaster relief for farmers; development grants for rural communities; funds for wastewater infrastructure; and resources to restore highways, aviation facilities and other transit projects, Shelby's office said.

It also includes $600 million in nutrition assistance and $304 million in Community Development Block Grant funding for Puerto Rico sought by Democrats, as well as an extension of the National Flood Insurance Program, a statement said.

Democrats said the bill took much longer to pass than it should have, in part because of Trump's interventions.

'Each time the president messes in, things get messed up,' Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said, referring to repeated criticism from Trump of the proposed aid for Puerto Rico and Trump's border aid request. 'So I suggested this morning that we just do disaster aid and no border, and that's what we're doing. ... We got all we wanted for Puerto Rico.'

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